Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) directed by Martin Scorsese

We're choosing some of our favorite films leading up to the New Year. Today's pick is one of Astrid's.

I love the idea of misconception, when  people don't seem to be what they are, or they somehow refuse other people's conception of themselves as human being or artist. Martin Scorsese has often achieved this in the most subtle ways. We know him as the film maker who chronicles gangster lives so well. He has an instinctive feel for the murkier depths of the street, especially those of NewYork between the 60's to present day.

But if you scratch the surface of Scorsese a little, and clear away the bluster, and more importantly, the cinema he's known for, you'll find the real beating engine beneath the bonnet. It's when dealing with the idea of creativity that for me Scorsese makes his best and often more original work. The King Of Comedy, New York, New York, The Last Waltz and No Direction Home. Add Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore to that mix and you get a thoughtful and sensitive film maker that counter balances the recognized gangster spats.

So what makes Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore so special? Well there's the opening twisted spoof of Wizard of Oz. The underrated Ellen Burstyn's brilliant central role. The creepiest Harvey Keitel performance, the best Jodie Foster cameo ever, Alfred Lutter's stellar childish humor. Add Kris Kristofferson to the mix, reliable and steady as the love interest and Diane Ladd as a foul mouthed waitress. I love the way Kristofferson's beard has the same gray patches as my own. The usual excellent soundtrack features T Rex, Mott The Hoople, Elton John and other 70's delights.With Scorsese showing his flair for the visual for the first time, what you end up with is one of Scorsese's least celebrated pictures and romantic comedy gold. This is a genuinely funny, touching film.  Go see!

It was a revelation to me about a year back to discover that Martin Scorsese has directed a film such as Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in the middle of his portrayals of violence and his dedication to male characters. This is a film about a woman.

As I am writing, it occurs to me that it is still rather rare to see movies about women in an empowering, empathic, yet unsentimental light. For example this year's 'women's film' Eat, Pray, Love (2010) is simply embarrassing and patronizing in comparison. Still, I must mention it here, because I believe that both films cater to the same need of making sense of what it is to be a heterosexual 35-year-old American woman in a particular time and place. What is liberation, sexual freedom, free will and what is responsibility? Erica Jong's bestseller Fear of Flying (a novel) from the 1970's also belongs to this same discussion. My point being that the question of women's identity sells each decade in slightly different packaging. But it sells a ton.

Now to the personal: I am a woman and I happen to be a piano playing singer too. So is Alice. And if it is rare to see a film about a strong woman, it is even rarer to see a movie about a woman with artistic aspirations, but not much success. Alice is flawed, tired and disillusioned, then she is let down by the men in her life and so she takes her son and gets on the road to return to her home town and to resume her musical career (which she left 15 years earlier). Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore describes a woman of the 1970's waking up to the notion that she does have the right to ask herself what she wants. What happens when she finally dares to ask? I won't tell you because you have to watch this film.


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